The third Sunday in Advent is set aside to focus on joy. We are not quite to the joy of Christmas yet but we are getting close.
For believers we have a certain kind of joy. It is the joy that follows sorrow and mourning. The pattern is pretty common in Scripture.
In Isaiah 61 we read that God will: “grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (Isaiah 61:3, ESV)
According to Hebrews 12, Jesus experienced joy after sorrow: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)
The book of psalms also speaks of the joy that follows sadness:
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6, ESV)
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, (Psalm 30:11, ESV)
For believers, just as surely as morning follows night, joy will follow sorrow. We, of course, would prefer to just have rejoicing all the time. But that is not God’s way.
Our problem is that we think that God is only with us during our times of rejoicing. But this is not true. God is with us always. In the happy times and in the sad times.
Again we turn to the Psalms:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1, ESV)
“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:15, ESV)
Wise King Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes 3:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:…
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4, ESV)
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 Jesus says,
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12, ESV)
Jesus says we are blessed when we are reviled and persecuted and being falsely accused of evil not after the reviling and persecuting are over.
In I Thessalonians, chapter 5, we are told to “rejoice always,” not just when things are going well.
God promises us that the joy that will follow our sorrow will erase any remembrance of our sorrow. You may have experienced something that was difficult and you made it through it but it left a bitter taste in your mouth. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 8, that will not happen with the joy that is to come for believers:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, ESV)
Going back to Isaiah 61, the prophet rejoices that God has clothed him with garments of salvation:
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10, ESV)
Our robe of righteousness comes from Jesus Christ. As we are about to celebrate at Christmas time, Jesus took on our human flesh so that he could live the perfect life and then die on the cross for our sins. Through Holy Baptism we are clothed with his righteousness and holiness.
Jesus lived a complete life of righteousness, all the way back to where life begins with his conception in the womb of his mother, Mary. He did not come as an adult, he came in the very tiniest form of humanity so that he could live for us a complete life of holiness and righteousness.
If we dare appear before God clothed with our own righteousness we will not stand. We are all conceived and born in sin and cannot free ourselves from sin.
God calls us to share this good news with others. During the holiday season this year there is much sadness. Many people have lost loved ones due to the pandemic. We can still reach out to them but it has to be in different ways.
And as we reach out we don’t just say, “Well cheer up, God loves you.” We assure people that even in their grief God is still with them and he promises to bring us through our grief to rejoicing.
An even scarier thought is that for many people the joy of this life is all there is. For those who are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ whatever joy they have in this life will be followed with an eternity of pain and sadness. God wants us to reach out to them as well to share with them the source of eternal joy, Jesus Christ.
On the night he was born, Jesus’ mother Mary wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. Though his coming was very meek and lowly he came to bring us true righteousness and joy. By living the perfect life, dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the dead, Jesus has clothed us in garments of salvation.